From the Editor

Annual Assessments

The statewide assessment season is once more in full swing as schools approach the end of the school year.  Overall, the 2016-17 state assessment picture was relatively stable. Education Week reported that 21 states, the same number as 2015-16, planned to administer either the PARCC or SBAC assessments, with the remaining states using some combination of custom, state-designed or combination test.

This spring, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment is being used in Illinois, Colorado, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia, along with schools managed by the federal Bureau of Indian Education. Rhode Island just announced that it will not use PARCC in 2017-18, instead opting to use the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, MCAS, in grades 3-8, and the PSAT and SAT in high school. The current MCAS is made up of a blend of items from PARCC and Massachusetts' own longtime MCAS test. The loss of Rhode Island could increase the cost of using the PARCC for the remaining six states.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) is being used this spring in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia. 

The hope of a common assessment system that would allow for comparisons between states has clearly faltered. Hopefully, whatever the future of PARCC and SBAC, the other aim of the assessment consortia will persist. Both tests were developed to better assess higher-order skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and analyzing sources to write arguments and informational essays. Neither assessment system was perfect and both have continued to evolve. But as states continue to refine their own standards-aligned assessments, I hope they remember and improve on what these next generation test demonstrated on moving student assessment beyond traditional multiple choice tests.

While ESSA has returned most decisions about the accountability to the states, it still requires that students be tested annually in grades 3-8 and once in high school in math and reading, plus science in certain grade spans. States are free to test in other subjects. That might be good news, since it is still true that what gets tested gets taught, but it's hard to imagine the states adding many additional statewide tests, since much of the parental pushback has been over the sheer amount of time devoted to testing. As I've reported before, ESSA also allows districts to use a locally determined, nationally recognized test like the ACT or SAT instead of the state test in high schools. This is an option that an increasing number of states have decided to pursue. 

It's interesting to see what a difference the passage of time makes.  If you weren't paying specific attention, it would be easy to miss that the schools are in the midst of their annual assessment season.  I'm sure there have been some news stories here and there, but they've not been widely picked up. That's even true for reporting on families deciding to opt out of testing. That said, many parents, even those not opting out, continue to have real misgivings about testing and the over emphasis on test scores that still mark far too many schools.

States and districts are faced with a difficult challenge. They need student progress data in order to better target instruction to each student's needs. But endless interim and benchmark testing just adds fuel to the "too much testing" fire. Schools need to find more authentic and integrated ways in which to gather this data.